Reaching New Heights Within Ourselves: Reflections on Easter

white flower blossom on barren tree branch

It’s never easy writing about Easter, or Christmas for that matter. So much pressure to say the right thing, especially this year with three major holidays in parallel: Passover, Easter, Ramadan. I find myself searching for an everyday kind of way to embrace Easter, to remember what it means beyond jellybeans, chocolate bunnies, and never remembering exactly how many plastic eggs I hid the night before.

Easter starts in the dark in our home. My son bounds into my room a little after 5 a.m., and with a quick kiss on my cheek and a flashlight in hand, he is off in search of hidden delights. I drag myself out of bed, wishing I was a coffee drinker and quite honestly forgetting what the day means in my pre-dawn stupor.

More than any other holiday, Easter reminds me to trust, to dig deep and hold on. It can feel like eternity, sometimes, moving from pain and loss (a Good Friday, if you will) toward the hope and promise of transformation (an Easter morning). And yet, that cycle of life swirls around us: life, death, rebirth. Green buds on barren trees. Spiderlings ballooning into the open. Apple blossoms giving way to the delicious fruit they were meant to become.

Sometimes resurrection comes on the third day, like holy week. And sometimes it’s more like three years. Either way, when you are in the midst of loss or struggle, transformation certainly seems to take  longer than any of us want or imagine. And then one day, when we least expect it, we look around and think: This is my Easter.

For the better part of my 30s, I sat on a lot of different front stoops, longing for what I did not have. I cheered on my nieces and nephews and their gaggle of friends as they flew up and down the sidewalk on bikes, scooters, and roller blades. I did the same at my friends’ homes, celebrating their infants and toddlers and school-age children’s feats. I was always on the outside, looking in. I’d come home at night and envy the brightly colored suns and blue-lined skies that covered the sidewalk across the street in my old neighborhood.

That was before my son and I adopted each other. Now, when we walk out our front steps, a sense of belonging greets me. My son has a gaggle of neighborhood friends all his own in every color and age. Some are adopted. Some are biracial. Others, like him, of international origin. We meet at the park down the street. Or the kids play on the patch of grass in front of our building as I chat with all the moms and dads and grandparents who weathered the pandemic with us. Bonded by what was out of our control, we offered one another grace, free outdoor childcare, and just the right GIF to make you laugh when otherwise we’d all be crying.

They are my Easter: the long-awaited answer to a prayer I offered up for more than a decade. For my son and I, an interracial adopted family, to feel seen and known and loved in our own neighborhood, from our own front stoop.

This Easter, once the sun is finally up, my son and I pack up our water bottles, rain gear (just in case), and protein bars and set out hiking for the day. It is one of our favorite family traditions. Every year since my son was 5 (minus the pandemic), we have headed to a different destination: The Indiana Dunes, Starved Rock State Park, Devil’s Lake. My oldest adult nephew leads the way and invariably, as the sun begins to set, hoists my young son on his shoulders to carry him back to the car.

I remember how a few years ago, when my son was in first grade, the two of them veered off the hiking trail and explored a dry riverbed that twisted and turned for miles. Walking back to the car, my son riding proudly on my nephew’s shoulders, we declared our triumphs. I had the best fall as we were Facetiming my family! My son had the best (burgeoning) hiking instincts. And my nephew had the best carrying capacity (even willing to carry me to the car after that infamous fall when I tripped crossing a stream.)  

This year, though, is different. My son is 10 years old. He is long and lanky with feet that keep outgrowing his shoes in rapid succession. In his new hiking boots, he forges straight up the steep rock formations and endless switchbacks that rise over 14,000 feet to the bluffs overlooking a lake far below. “Come on, Mom,” he hollers down to me, smiling.

I have to keep stopping to catch my breath. My calf muscles tremble, and my quads burn. Are we there yet? I think to myself, chuckling at the role reversal. But I push on, stealing glimpses whenever I can of how my son is now scaling new heights all on his own. I watch in wonder and awe at who he is becoming. He is my Easter, too.

Nearing the top, the silence of pine trees envelopes me. It is so pure and clean, unlike the fleeting silence of our city neighborhood. I smile, knowing I am in the presence of the divine. “Thank you,” I whisper again and again for all the ways we made it through the struggle, and the exhaustion, night after night, to arrive here, in this moment of triumph and joy.

This year, Easter is also my mom recovering from a major stroke, relearning how to walk, lift her arm, use her hand. Easter is learning to shed the grief and isolation of the past two years and somehow emerge stronger, wiser, and more alive. It’s trusting that we can resurrect ourselves, in big and small ways, to step more fully into who God created—and calls us—to be. Easter, no matter how long we must endure, always comes.

May your days and weeks and months ahead by filled with hope and joy. And may the God of infinite love lead you to new heights within yourself—and then out into the world.